In typical Portland fashion, Green Dragon has no fewer than 50 craft beers from around the city and the world on tap, with such usual suspects as Rogue, Lagunitas and Blanche de Chambly well represented. What catches my eye, however, are the unique house beers, cooked up on-site at Buckman Botanical Brewery. There’s the chamomile-infused Chamomellow and an exceptional ginger beer, but the piece de resistance is a brew straight out of the history books: mead. Technically not a beer, mead is a fermented mixture of honey and water flavored with spices, fruit and hops. Buckman updates the ancient classic — the granddaddy of all fermented drinks — with a hint of green tea. Thick and earthy, it’s not your typical pint, but suffice it to say that those Greeks were on to something.
Getting my sea legs, I march out into the warm Portland evening. Before my final stop, I need a little sustenance. And like so many drinkers before me, I’ve got just one destination in mind: Cartopia. An Eastside version of Portland’s famed food cart pods, Cartopia resembles a ramshackle gypsy encampment. Beat-up food trucks huddle around picnic tables strung with Christmas lights on the corner of busy Hawthorne Boulevard.
Open until 3 a.m., Cartopia makes a killing catering to locals with a serious case of the munchies. This being Portland, however, we’re not talking typical burger-and-fries fare. I wander past vendors hawking shrimp po’ boys, wood-fired pizzas, Quebec-style poutine and sweet and savory crepes before settling on a local favorite, Whiffies Pies. Taking the humble meat pie to new heights, Whiffies offers deep-fried versions stuffed with mac-and-cheese, Mounds bars and other artery-unfriendly ingredients. I sample one too many but come nowhere near the official record scrawled on the menu board: 11 pies in one hour.
Last stop is a true Eastside institution. Opened in 1993 in a derelict ice machine factory, Hair of the Dog was among the neighborhood’s first breweries and has carved out a unique niche in Portland’s craft brewing pantheon. Its specialty: a class of truly rarefied beers that, like fine wine, get better with age. Its barrel-aged brews spend from six months to eight years inside oak casks — both new ones and retired wine and spirits barrels. Meanwhile, bottle-conditioned beers are stored in 12-ounce bottles, in some cases for up to a decade or longer, before being cracked open.
A freight train rumbles by as I duck into Hair of the Dog and pony up to the U-shaped bar. The beer menu lists vintage bottles dating to the mid-1990s, including a 1994 porter for a whopping $75. I opt instead for the Walk of the Dog, a tasting flight of some of the brewery’s drafts.
The highlight is named Fred: a deep golden ale made with 10 types of hops, rye malts and Belgian candi sugar. At 10 percent alcohol, however, it’s one serious nightcap. I make my way to the front of the bar, where a pair of garage doors are thrown open to the warm night. Across the Willamette River, the lights of downtown swim in the distance. Bearded hipsters in trucker hats are streaming in on road bikes. Inside, beer nerds are talking shop, snapping cellphone shots of strawberry-blonde IPAs and seductively dark stouts as if they were centerfolds. Someone’s shirt reads, “I don’t get drunk. I get awesome.”
Only in Portland.
Scalza is a travel journalist and photographer based in Vancouver, Canada. His Web site is www.